- There is a lot of attention paid to the idea of Customer Experience.
- Even though we have the concept of the buyer’s journey, the intention is to enable a conversion, a transactional view and approach that works for marketing.
- Professional sales needs a concept for a Prospective Client Experience, a facilitated, needs-based buyer journey.
Merrill Lynch’s decision to forbid their Wealth Management sales force to make cold calls was based on complaints from the prospective clients, some of whom may have been clients of Bank of America. The “cold call” itself cannot be blamed for the bad experience, but we can indict the approach to those calls without any additional information given the resulting ban.
It’s likely that someone at Merrill or Bank of America is concerned about Customer Experience, a concept that’s been around for a while. But the concept we really need in professional sales is “Prospective Client Experience” or PCX. Let’s explore what the rules of PCX might look like.
What is it Like to Be Your Prospect?
As a young salesperson, I was taught to apologize for my allegedly overzealous approach to pursuing prospective clients. After apologizing for being so tenacious, I promised my prospective clients that I would be equally tenacious about helping them with the better results they needed. At the time, that strategy worked very well, even if I had to use it more often than might have been healthy: I once called a client seventy-six weeks in a row, always leaving a voicemail that offered no evidence I was worth their time. It would be years before I recognized that I could trade the value of my insights and experience for my prospective client’s time. Once I realized that my prospective clients were willing to have conversations that were valuable to their decision-making, I modified my approach.
The problem with a persistent approach that isn’t based on your client’s experience is that it can feel like a brute force attack. It can also feel completely self-oriented, with the salesperson projecting (and foreground) their desire to convert the prospect to a client. As new technologies allow the automation of these full-frontal, brute force attempts to engage a prospective client, PCX is only getting worse.
Would You Appreciate Your Approach?
There are two questions worth exploring when you take a hard look at your own prospective clients’ experience. First, would you want to be the target of your prospecting approach? If you were the prospective client, would you want an aggressive, self-oriented salesperson pursuing a meeting with you? Would you appreciate the brute-force nature of their approach, built on a relentless cadence that provided you no real value? How would you feel about a company that believes that unless and until you pass through their “sales-qualified lead” filters, you are not worth a salesperson’s time?
There is a difference between a brute force approach and a patient, professional, persistent pursuit that is built on creating value for your clients and capturing mindshare. The latter approach requires you to make deposits in the relationship, making it easier to acquire a meaningful meeting, even if it takes you a bit longer to get there. For better or worse, you’re always projecting the experience your prospective client can expect from you in the future.
Many of the older tactics used to acquire a meeting have outlived their usefulness. In a world with no end of potential partners, it is easy to avoid bad salespeople, and even easier to buy from a salesperson and a sales organization that provides a better prospective client experience.
There is no reason to treat others—especially your prospective clients—in a way that you would not want to be treated.
What Approach Would You Appreciate?
It’s also worth thinking about what approach you might appreciate if you were the prospective client. When you take a sales call, what intentions would you want to drive the salesperson’s behavior? Would you hope that they would aggressively push for a meeting that would serve their agenda, without so much as an awareness of your challenges, your problems, your goals, or how they might be able to help you improve your results? Would you want the prospective client experience to assume that you are already compelled to change and spend your days just waiting for a cross between Willy Loman and Prince Charming?
Or would you prefer that they focus on creating value for you, so you can make better sense of your increasingly complex, often chaotic world? Would your experience be improved by someone explaining the nature of your challenges and your opportunities, helping you to recognize the factors you need to evaluate to even consider changing?
A Prospective Client Experience
The first acquisition editor to read my book manuscript criticized a chapter I’d titled “Caring: The Desire to Help Others.” He told me directly that there was no place for a chapter on something so soft as “caring” in a sales book. My experience as a salesperson was quite different than the editor’s uninformed experience, as he admitted he had never been a salesperson. Don’t make the same mistake with your clients—even if you’ve never bought exactly what you’re trying to sell them, do the work to understand and improve their experience.
To establish an effective and professional PCX, let me propose a set of guiding principles:
- Every interaction with a prospective client (including your cold call) must create value for your prospective clients, extending throughout the entire sales conversation.
- Help your prospective client improve their results. This is not the same thing as selling your solution, even though your solution might improve their results. Recognize that the solution creates no value during your conversation—that only happens after they buy and execute it. The starting point for creating better results is the conversation.
- When a client is not compelled to change, help them see what is currently invisible to them. The charge of a trusted advisor is to proactively prevent their clients from being harmed, not to pick up the pieces after allowing them to fail. (And don’t think you can count on all the king’s horses and all the king’s men for help, either!)
- When your prospective client is compelled to change, help them understand the decision they are making. Because the legacy approaches to sales are inadequate for the current environment, you have to teach them how to make a good decision for their business.
- Go no faster than your client. You improve the prospective client’s experience when you match their pace, even though you already know how to improve their results.
Do Good Work:
- Treat your prospective clients exactly as you would want to be treated.
- Ensure that your prospective client experience motivates prospects to become new clients.
- Follow the guiding principles of PCX listed above.